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It's high time our governments stopped normalising racism Open in fullscreen

Malia Bouattia

It's high time our governments stopped normalising racism

'The march is a concerted call to end nearly a decade of Tory rule' [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2019

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Comment: Join us in marching this Saturday to denounce governments that normalise the racist far right and thier Islamophobic politics, writes Malia Bouattia.
This weekend thousands are expected to join NGOs, unions, state and academic institutions in marking the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  

The national demonstrations called in London, Glasgow and Cardiff on Saturday will take a stand against rising racism and fascism in Britain, and across the continent.

But the urgency of this Saturday's anti-racist mass mobilisation has been further intensified today, with the tragic news of the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Motivated by proudly racist, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant views, the horrific attack has left 49 dead, and was live-streamed on social media by the 28-year old Australian gunman who identified himself as Brenton Tarrant.

While attack may have come as a shock to New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern and the country's well meaning liberals, as Muslims, migrants and people of colour, we are all too aware of the risks posed to our very existence.

Read more: Name the white supremacist killers of Muslims

Here in the UK, not a week goes by without further evidence that mainstream rhetoric is being pulled further and further to the right. The current state of our politics warrants a bold show of strength against the UK government and its increasing war on racialised communities.

Hearing leading politicians refer to people with a 'funny tinge' and 'coloured people', or comparing Muslim women who wear the burqa to 'post boxes' has become so regular and normalised that it's hard not to think of them as conscious dog whistles to the far-right rather than the gaffes they are made out to be.

But these comments are only the very tip of the iceberg. No community has been spared the onslaught on Britain's most vulnerable led by Britain's Tory party.

Manufactured moral panics, discriminatory laws, and structural violence are alll on the rise, and it's not for nothing that hate crime in general, including xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks are increasing year on year. This should come as so surprise, given all of these ideas are being normalised by those in power.

It's hard not to think of them as conscious dog whistles to the far-right rather than the gaffes they are made out to be

Anyone not struck by the rabid assaults on migrants across British political life of late can only have been living under a rock. 

The Brexit debate, far from addressing the structural inequalities built into the EU, or the downward pressure it has put on wages and welfare provisions across the continent, has been framed as a border issue and a war on migration.

This became more than simply a turn of phrase, when Home Secretary Sajid Javid brought actual war ships to 'guard' the British coast against 'illegal' migrants running for their lives, who had the temerity to risk the crossing by boat. Not happy to participate in the EU's murder of migrants in the Mediterranean, Javid wanted to bring that policy home too.

It was not only recent migrants however who found themselves under attack this year.

Anti-racism protesters join the 2018 march in Glasgow, Scotland [Getty]

The Windrush scandal was a reminder to all black communities in the UK that their presence here, however longstanding, would always be subject to scrutiny.

Theresa May, Amber Rudd and Javid have all participated in this scheme which targeted former citizens of the empire who came to the UK to work, more often than not on the invitation of the government.

After decades in Britain, having built lives and families here, they found themselves abrutly deported to a place with which many only had distant connections. Caribbean families have been disproportionately targeted by this process.

In fact, as Shamima Begum has discovered, in Tory Britain it is not even necessary to have another passport to be refused access to the country. Deaf to realities of a young woman who was clearly made the victim of grooming by Islamic State, and who at 19 years old has lived unspeakable trauma - including the loss of all three of her children – the government opted to revoke her citizenship, leaving her to rot, stateless, in a refugee camp in Syria.

It demonstrated to all people of colour in the UK that, at best, our presence here remains always conditional

Not only is this effectively demanding that Syria deals with the consequences of British political realities which led Begum to leave, it also demonstrated to all people of colour in the UK that, at best, our presence here remains always conditional.

Muslim communities have of course remained at the centre of the government's aim. The Prevent agenda, Schedule 7, and the panoply of laws and policies that have been brought in under the pretext of the so-called "War on Terror" have turned Muslims into a criminalised and demonised community.

We are treated as always suspect, from nurseries and schools, to universities and hospitals. These Islamophobic policies are now also being rolled out well beyond Muslim communities. The recent calls by the Muslim Council of Britain for the Conservative party to investigate claims that it is institutionally Islamophobic, seem rather unlikely to amount to much given the practices of the party in power.

The government for example, announced that it would prosecute presumed gang members under anti-terrorism laws. And the recent crackdown on knife crime – far from addressing the roots of the violence in working class and often racialised communities – has instead brought back incentivising Stop and Search structures for the police, which prides itself on carrying out 1,000 of these procedures a day at times of high activity.

While doing little to help young men stuck in this cycle of violence, it does much to facilitate the spreading of moral panic, the justification of draconian laws and the mobilisation of racist narratives often focussed on the black youth.

Not only has the government implemented vile and racist policies at every opportunity, it has also actively normalised the presence and activity of the far right, both through its political decision and choice of allies.

May's relationship with the openly anti-Semitic Hungarian government of Viktor Orban, or Boris Johnson's close collaboration with the equally anti-Semitic Steve Bannon and his Unite the Right project, send a disconcerting message to the far right at home, that the government accepts their political vision and methods as legitimate.

And that message has been received loud and clear. The 30,000 who marched last summer through London in solidarity with their wannabe Fuhrer, Tommy Robinson, are very powerful, and terrifying proof of just that.

The demonstration this weekend is therefore not simply a general show of strength of the anti-racist movement.

It should also be a concerted call to end nearly a decade of Tory rule, which has meant both economic and political devastation for the poorest and most oppressed across society.

This year in particular marks the 20th anniversary of the MacPherson report, which found that the police was institutionally racist.

The panoply of laws and policies that have been brought in under the pretext of the so-called 'War on Terror' have turned Muslims into a criminalised and demonised community

While the report has done little to change this reality in the British police force - violence and deaths at the hands of the police continue to disproportionately target black and Asian populations - it has given us an important vocabulary to describe how racism is structured and reproduced by institutions.

The ruling party and its current government are two such institutions, and Saturday's march is an opportunity to refocus our efforts to defeat them.

Salma Yaqoob, the anti-racist and anti-war activist who will address the demonstration told me much the same.

"The demonstration is an opportunity for all of us to unite and to take a collective stand against the tide of racism which is rising across British society and beyond.

"But it is also an opportunity for all of us to put forward a different vision of what we think our society should look and feel like. We represent the alternative to their rule of division and inequality. We represent the society to come."


Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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